The Tainted Milk Mustache
Got rBGH milk? Despite the aura of innocent wholesomeness in the “Got Milk?” television and print advertisements, implying a pristine product with awesome health advantages, a growing body of evidence suggests that standard milk is no longer a healthy food. So maybe the cloying domesticity of those milk mustaches sported by celebrities is a facade worth peering behind.
It may be the newest carcinogen, but the FDA and Monsanto, the chemical giant that makes rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone, used on cows to increase milk yield), apparently don’t want the public to know. Rumors and insinuations of research cover-up and possible government-industry collusion abound. In any event, you place your trust in the friendly endorsement of the milk-mustachioed celebrities at your peril.
The rBGH and Cancer Link–Ever since genetically engineered rBGH, also known as recombinant bovine somatotrophin, was approved by the FDA in 1994 for injection in dairy cows to raise milk production, consumers have been alarmed about its possible negative health effects and the lack of solid scientific support for its safety. Many have also been outraged by the FDA’s failure to require dairies to label milk and milk products as derived from rBGH-treated cows.
Evidence from scientific studies now incriminates rBGH in both breast and gastrointestinal cancers. In a study published in the International Journal of Health Services, Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and professor at the University of Illinois Medical Center, both in Chicago, Illinois, states that “with the active complicity of the FDA, the entire nation is currently being subjected to large-scale adulteration of an age-old dietary staple by a poorly characterized and unlabeled biotechnology product.” The result may be major potential public health risks for the entire country, Dr. Epstein warns.
The problem with rBGH is a hormone, common to cows and humans, called IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor). IGF-1, normally found in the human body (in the blood and saliva), causes cells to divide and grow–to proliferate–and it is this factor that directly increases milk production in cows.
But when additional amounts of IGF-1 enter the human body in the presence of milk protein (casein), the body is unable to destroy it, stomach enzymes are unable to digest it, and it is absorbed by the colon, which is known to have cell receptor sites for IGF-1. Pasteurization does not disable IGF-1; in fact FDA research in 1990 showed that pasteurization can elevate IGF-1 levels in milk.
The hormone rBGH increases the amount of IGF-1 found in dairy milk, according to Dr. Epstein. IGF-1 is suspected to be cancer-causing, promoting both the transformation of normal breast tissue into breast cancer and the proliferation of these malignant cells. “All women will now be exposed to an additional breast cancer risk due to milk from cows treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone,” states Dr. Epstein.
The most recent research suggests that elevated IGF-1 levels in rBGH milk are associated with a higher incidence of both breast and prostate cancer. The Lancet (May 1998) reported a sevenfold increased risk of breast cancer among premenopausal women younger than 51, based on a study of 397 women. The researchers concluded that there is “substantial indirect evidence of a relation between IGF-1 and risk of breast cancer.”
Science (January 1998) reported a fourfold increased risk of prostate cancer–“a strong positive association”–among 152 men who had elevated, but still “normal,” levels of IGF-1. The study found that men, aged 60 and older, with high levels of IGF-1 (300-500 nanograms/milliliter) were eight times more likely to develop prostate cancer than men with the lowest levels (100-185 ng/ml).
According to the researchers, these results “raise concern” that an intake of rBGH or IGF-1, over time (and especially so for the elderly), “may increase the risk of prostate cancer.” Researchers suggested that IGF-1 levels in the blood might be a useful predictor of prostate cancer risk.
In studies prepared for the FDA, Monsanto indicated that the IGF-1 levels in cows injected with rBGH can increase by anywhere from 25% to 70%. A 1990 study in the Journal of Nutrition placed the elevation at 26%, rising from 3.3 ng/ml in untreated cows to 4.2 ng/ml in rBGH-injected ones.
Independent European studies discovered that rBGH milk may contain ten times as much IGF-1 as non-rBGH milk. High IGF-1 levels are particularly dangerous for infants and young children, states Dr. Epstein. He adds that rBGH milk is “supercharged with high levels of abnormally potent IGF-1, up to ten times the levels in natural milk and over ten times more potent.” No word of rBGH posing a carcinogenic threat was ever mentioned in the FDA review and approval of the growth hormone, yet now the research is showing that to be the case.
Dr. Epstein further explains that rBGH-treated milk is not a natural product nor is it the same or even like untreated, natural milk. It differs from natural milk chemically, nutritionally, pharmacologically, and immunologically, he says. The rBGH molecule is a chain comprised of 191 amino acids; however, according to Monsanto scientist Bernard Violand in the technical journal Protein Science (1994), during the bioengineering process, a “freak” amino acid was formed, resulting in a finished substance unlike the naturally occuring bovine protein.
Monsanto never admitted the anomaly and the FDA never took any corrective action; both continue to claim that rBGH is identical to bovine growth hormone found in cows. According to Dr. Epstein, the “FDA has dismissed these concerns without investigation and on the basis of unpublished ‘confidential’ short-term toxicity data, primarily from an industry consulting firm with a tainted track record.”
“Say No to a Milk ‘Pus’-tache”–Nor are the cows flourishing under the rBGH regimen. When cows are forced to produce more milk, they become susceptible to mastitis (udder infection) which means pus from the infection can pass into the milk.
Monsanto itself declared, prior to FDA approval, that their Posilac (the commercial name for rBGH) could increase mastitis incidence by up to 79%; the Posilac label reiterates this tendency by stating that “cows injected with Posilac are at an increased risk for clinical mastitis (visibly abnormal milk).”
Not only are more rBGH-injected cows likely to be affected by mastitis, but individual cows will probably develop more cases of the infection, says the Monsanto label. The label also admits that there may also be increased somatic cell counts (SCCs, pus and bacteria as a result of udder inflammation) in the milk.
In 1994, British researchers reanalyzed the original eight randomized, controlled trials from the late 1980s from which Monsanto developed its conservative estimate of contamination in rBGH-treated cows. The “new” results were published in Nature: rBGH treatment “produced a 19% increase in milk SCCs relative to controls; this effect is highly statistically significant.”
Robert Cohen, independent researcher and author of Milk: The Deadly Poison, notes, “In ten drops of milk, a million cells of pus. All of this in your morning cereal, but it [milk] still appears white and pure.” The milk mustache might more accurately be called a pus-tache, he adds. Milk producers deny that a glass of rBGH-produced milk is milk with pus in it; they claim that milk from cows with mastitis is destroyed and doesn’t enter the market.
More cases of mastitis mean yet more antibiotics must be injected into cows and more antibiotic residues find their way into the milk and subsequently into humans. Although individual tankers of milk are supposedly tested for antibiotic residues, not all of the 80 or so commercially used antibiotics are routinely tested for.
The Wall Street Journal reported in 1989 that 38% of 50 retail milk samples examined from ten major cities were contaminated with sulfamethazine (a known carcinogen linked with thyroid cancer), other sulfa drugs, or antibiotics. Of these samples, 10% were tainted with streptomycin-family antibiotics at levels exceeding 100 parts per billion when the FDA’s tolerance level for drug residues was zero.
Also in 1989, the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C, examined 20 milk samples in metropolitan Washington, D.C., and found 20% were tainted with sulfa drugs. The next year, New York City—based television station WCBS tested 50 retail milk samples from metropolitan New York and found that 80% contained traces of the antibiotic tetracycline and 25% were tainted with sulfamethazine.
A 1990 FDA survey of 70 milk samples collected from 14 U.S. cities found antibiotics and sulfa drugs in 51% of samples. But a follow-up FDA report retracted these findings, saying it found no antibiotic residues. However, the Wall Street Journal challenged the FDA’s revised results that same year, claiming that the FDA deliberately used a less sensitive laboratory test for its revised report. The General Accounting Office (GAO, Congress’ investigative arm) that same year ruled the FDA’s analysis of milk samples statistically invalid, characterizing it as “snapshots in time” of a few milk samples tested for only a few drug residues.
While it is true that since 1993, the National Drug Residue Milk Monitoring Program (NDRMMP) has tested raw milk for antibiotic residues, it is only for those in the penicillin family. According to its FDA directive, one raw milk sample is collected and analyzed every week throughout the year at five of 250 locations within dairy-producing states. The arrangement still makes it possible that some milk can enter the market laced with higher levels (and unauthorized types) of antibiotics even though there is a monitoring program in place.
According to NDRMMP’s report for milk monitoring it conducted in 1996 (information maintained as the National Milk Drug Residue Data Base), out of 4,565,000 milk samples from 50 states screened for 22 different groups or types of drugs, 5,404 samples had traces of animal drugs, although the report didn’t specify which drugs.
The ramifications of additional antibiotic residues in a major food product are, medically, global. The higher the human antibiotic intake, the greater the likelihood of still more disease organisms mutating into resistance to standard antibiotics, leaving patients who are dependent on conventional medicine more vulnerable to serious infections. The incidence of multiple drug—resistant bacteria is escalating and causing panic in conventional medical circles.
Meanwhile, in a public release from 1994 still put forth as a policy statement on its website, the FDA lamely tries to reassure the public. As of March 1993, the FDA knew there would be a “slightly increased incidence” of mastitis, that this would be “manageable,” and that the increased use of antibiotics resulting from this would “not pose a risk to human health.”
Milk is a hormonally complex food, even before it is adulterated. What’s in a glass of milk besides rBGH? In 1992, Pennsylvania State University endocrinologist Clark Grosvenor published a review of the known bioactive hormones and growth factors found in a typical glass of milk produced in the U.S. The list included eight pituitary (an endrocine gland in the brain) hormones, seven steroid hormones, seven hypothalamic (another brain endrocine gland) hormones, nine gastrointestinal peptides (chains of two or more amino acids), six thyroid hormones, 11 growth factors, and nine other biologically active compounds. This is not a definitive list nor does it include antibiotic residues.
FDA Ignores Public Opinion–In light of these findings, one would reasonably expect the FDA to insist on clear labeling–even warnings–on milk derived from rBGH-fed cows. Quite the contrary. Neither the FDA nor Monsanto wants the consumer to know which milk contains rBGH.
Government health officials and Monsanto have strenuously opposed such labeling, claiming that, in Monsanto’s words, “the composition of milk is unchanged as a result of [rBGH] supplementation.” Their own research, cited above, refutes this misleading assertion.
Whether there is a significant difference or not, consumers have shown overwhelmingly (90% in one survey) that they don’t want rBGH in their milk and they want rBGH-milk clearly labeled. In fact, according to Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly, published by the Environmental Research Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland, 11 separate surveys have documented that Americans strongly want rBGH-treated milk labeled.
In January 1996, a study released by the University of Wisconsin at Madison showed that 94% of consumers want labels on milk distinguishing rBGH-treated product from untreated, while 74% said they were “moderately” to “very concerned” about the unknown health risks of rBGH that might be revealed later–as it were, after the fact, on the basis of newly identified health problems among consumers.
Michael K. Hansen, a research associate with the Consumer Policy Institute, the research arm of Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, summarized public concern this way in 1994, following the FDA’s approval of rBGH: “We are frankly amazed that the FDA would approve a drug that increases the risk of disease in cattle (a 79% increase for clinical mastitis alone), has no therapeutic uses, and then not require labeling so that consumers can decide if they want to buy and consume such a product or not.”
As environmental activist Mike Ewall notes, “Monsanto and the FDA have ganged up on any markets which try to label their milk and dairy products ‘rBGH-free’ by threatening to sue (and actually suing some).” Ewall is with EnviroLink Network, an on-line information resource on environmental issues for 375,000 users in 150 countries.
Due to Monsanto’s aggressive, heavy-handed pursuit of nonlabeling (with FDA support), numerous milk-based products from whipped cream to frozen yogurt now may contain increased levels of IGF-1 but the consumer will not know.
Meanwhile, the average American consumes 586 pounds of milk and dairy products every year, according to 1994 estimates, thereby virtually ensuring an abnormal and dangerously high intake of IGF-1.
Who needs all this milk anyway? Monsanto markets its Posilac as a way to radically increase milk yields, yet the U.S. government pays more than $200 million annually to buy up surplus milk as a means of subsidizing dairy prices. According to Pure Food Campaign of Little Marais, Minnesota, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget estimates that rBGH will cost taxpayers between $300 million and $500 million in the next six years in increased milk price supports.
The setup is awesome and outrageous: The FDA opens up the worldwide market for rBGH sales by Monsanto, then, thanks to the USDA’s price supports, Monsanto rakes in huge profits from Posilac sales at the U.S. taxpayers’ expense, draining citizens of both their money and health. Monsanto gets rich, the cows get mastitis, and some milk drinkers may get cancer.
The prime beneficiary of this arrangement appears to be Monsanto, and nobody else. “Faced with escalating rates of prostate and other avoidable cancers, the FDA should withdraw its approval of rBGH milk, whose sale benefits only Monsanto while posing public health risks for the entire U.S. population,” stated Dr. Epstein in March 1998.
Is the FDA in Monsanto’s Pocket?–To many, the giant Monsanto corporation has a seriously tarnished public reputation. According to Rachel’s Environment and Health Weekly (April 1998), “Monsanto is notorious for marketing dangerous products while falsely claiming safety.”
Monsanto has brought the world: the potent pesticide in Agent Orange; PCBs (polychorinated biphenyls), banned by the U.S. Congress in the 1970s; NutraSweet™, containing aspartame which has been linked with brain cancer; genetically altered foods, including a “frankenfood” soybean capable of assimilating large amounts of Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup®; and now rBGH.
Monsanto’s original safety test on rBGH was minimal–running only 90 days with 30 rats–and the results were never made public. Even more suspicious, the FDA has not allowed any parties outside the FDA to review the short-term rat study, claiming this would “irreparably harm” Monsanto.
Meanwhile, standard “good” science for potential cancer-producing substances calls for at least a two-year study involving hundreds of rats. Monsanto cut this public safety corner rather severely with, apparently, the FDA’s nod. According to Robert Cohen, the Monsanto data indicated all laboratory animals on rBGH “either developed, or were developing, cancer.”
Cohen adds, “Monsanto’s $600 million investment [in rBGH] remains safe, thanks to the FDA’s protective shield.” Why is a public health agency providing a protective shield to a chemical corporation–especially one whose record appears to be in flagrant disregard of human safety–at the expense of public health?
Based on his research, Cohen reports that at least three key Monsanto officials (two scientists and one attorney) were hired by the FDA “to carefully review and write the regulations and approval of their own research.”
One of these scientists, says Cohen, is Margaret Miller, Ph.D., whose employment at the FDA began in 1989. Prior to this, Dr. Miller had been a member of Monsanto’s biotechnology team; at the FDA, her charge was to “review, analyze, and help gain the approval of their new technology,” says Cohen.
While at Monsanto, Cohen continues, Dr. Miller reported (in published articles) that levels of IGF-1 in rBGH-treated milk “were significantly increased”; then at the FDA, Dr. Miller was responsible for determining government policy regarding labeling.
That labeling policy should have reflected the science showing elevated IGF-1 levels and their association with cell proliferation (including cancer), Cohen says; instead, it sealed the “collusion” between Monsanto and the FDA, he concludes. Today, the FDA still tells the public that IGF-1 has no effect on human metabolism and that it is digested by stomach enzymes and is therefore not active in the intestines, says Cohen.
“[Dr.] Miller wrote the FDA labeling opinion that guaranteed that consumers would be kept in the dark when they purchased milk that was genetically engineered,” he notes. The nonlabeling of rBGH-treated milk opened the door to a broader nonlabeling policy for the next Monsanto introduction: some three dozen genetically engineered foods.
Dr. Miller’s opinion was also responsible for increasing by 100 times the allowable amount of antibiotics Americans could consume in milk, from one part per hundred million to one part per million.
Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.
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